Monday, October 24, 2011

"Team Orders" Threaten NASCAR

It’s been a tumultuous season for Trevor Bayne.

In February, the 20-year old driver authored one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, winning the 2011 Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing. Just a few weeks later, Bayne found himself sidelined by a mysterious ailment that sapped his strength, compromised his eyesight and threatened to end his racing career. Sunday, Bayne found himself an unwitting pawn in a bizarre, “team orders” controversy that earned him the ire of four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Gordon’s highly vocal fan base.

The dispute stemmed from an edict handed down by Ford Motor Company and Roush Fenway Racing majority owner Jack Roush that prohibited Ford drivers from drafting with non-Ford driving championship contenders Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. After daylong drafting partner Robby Gordon fell by the wayside late in Sunday’s race, Bayne found himself on Jeff Gordon’s front bumper for the final restart. After first pledging to work with his childhood hero down the stretch, Bayne then abandoned the Hendrick Motorsports driver in favor of fellow Ford pilot Matt Kenseth; a move that relegated Gordon to a 27th place finish and snuffed out his flickering hopes for the 2011 championship.

"I didn't expect him to commit to me on the radio," said Gordon after the race. "I expected him to say, ‘Man, I'm sorry. I can't.' So when he said, ‘Yeah, I'm pushing you. We're good," I believed him.

"I was going to go with (Casey Mears)," added the four-time series champion, "but when Trevor lined up behind me and agreed to (work together), I said, `He's got a fast race car and we have a history of working well together.' I thought it was a no-brainer, but I probably should have known better."

Gordon said Bayne approached him after the race and apologized, saying, "Hey, it wasn't me. That's what I'm being told to do."

"I just think it could have been handled better," Gordon said. "If somebody is going to screw you, you'd like them to say it to your face."

Tony Stewart, who lost preferred drafting partner David Gilliland to the Roush/Ford edict, said the move may produce an unexpected backlash for championship-contending Ford drivers. “Jack Roush went a little crazy… and I think that decision could come back to haunt him,” said Stewart. “There are a lot of guys thinking that if that’s the game he wants to play, we can make his life pretty miserable over the next five weeks, too.”

While Gordon and his fans are rightly upset with Bayne, Ford drivers were not the only ones looking out for their own Sunday. Gordon carried out his own version of “team orders” at Talladega, repeatedly remaining on track under caution in an attempt to prevent point leader (and Roush Fenway Ford driver) Carl Edwards from leading a lap. Fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin did the same.

While NASCAR “team orders” still fall well short of Formula 1 -- where drivers have pulled over and handed victories to championship-contending teammates -- it is clear that Sunday’s race ushered in a new and unsavory era of team and manufacturer collusion.

Bayne displayed his usual candor after the race, saying via Twitter that he was “strong armed” into abandoning Gordon in the final laps. “I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell (Gordon) I would work with him and then be strong armed into bailing,” he said. “I'm not happy about what this has become. It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around.”

After being criticized by fans on the social networking site, Bayne tweeted, “I agree. That's why I'm so sick about all this. I won't race restrictor plate races next year before I'm put in that situation (again).”

NASCAR is the only professional sport where teammates regularly compete against each other. It is also the only sport where opponents assist each other on the field of play. With tens of millions of dollars on the line, it is not surprising that savvy team owners like Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick have adopted an “us first” mentality in an attempt to win.

If only there was a way to make it seem a little less contrived.


  1. He should be able to draft with whomever he chooses...the drivers made the owners what they are today...sure its give and take. Im a Kenseth fan and glad he helped my guy in the end but Trevor should be able to have that choice! SHAME SHAME Jack and Ford!!!

  2. Godfather you are right on as always. Keep up the work. Jimbobb70

  3. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Team orders and no team orders at the end of the day Chevy in Victory Lane. Take that Jack

  4. Well all I can say is Trevor could of had a much better finish in the long run than he did. It does not matter with manufactures, it's racing. If that is gonna be the case never let a driver say that he is gonna run with you. Trevor we all feel your pain. Keep up with the good work cause you will come to the Chevy camp soon I hope. It is a sad day in Nascar History for this to happen like this. We all know what the standing orders are. Sorry to the Wood Brothers for a bad choice on the track. Trevor had a chance to win...

  5. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Wow. To have a parts supplier tell my employee what to do wouldn't go over very well in my organization. Anybody ordering from Rousch may decide to look elsewhere for there materials. And now is a prime time for Dodge or Toyota to talk to teams like Wood Brothers RPM or Furniture Row. I know its easier said than done but its a possibility. Sometimes team orders can go too far and these people that think they have all the power need to be taken down a notch.

    Kelly in Manitoba

  6. Anonymous1:27 PM

    I think those of you condemning the Ford helping only Ford rules at the end of the race, should go back and listen to this years Daytona 500 broadcast again. The announcers pointed out at least twice during that race, that Richard Childress had/has similar rules regarding helping a Ford at the end of race.

  7. Thunder1:32 PM

    Jeff Gordon is quoted in article as saying he was going to go with Casey Mears, so what's the big deal.

  8. Kelly, if you were the Wood Brothers, where else would you look for cars, engines and the like? It's not like there are technical alliances on every corner, just waiting to be snapped up?

  9. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Any thought as to whether Paul Menard got orders to not push Tony past Boyer/Burton? Hope not....

  10. It is understandable that the manufacturer's prefer to work with their own teams, but at the end of the race, it shouldn't come down to team orders. I understand that Bayne made a decision based on who signs his paycheck, but he should have told Gordon he couldn't have worked with him.

    Of course the fact that one car can't run fast by itself at the RP tracks is an even bigger problem. Based on what I saw on TV, I won't be rushing out to buy a ticket to Daytona, I can tell you that.

  11. Anonymous2:02 PM


  12. Anonymous2:02 PM

    Team orders = no Fords in the top ten. I lost most of my respect for Jack when he whined so about Toyota ( who employs Americans and builds many cars in America) entering the sport. Yesterday I lost the rest. Trevor - remember there are more Chevy's and Toyotas in the garage than Fords. I bet someone would find you a seat if you need one.

  13. Doug M3:04 PM

    I agree with most of what you have said Dave. The one issue I would take is I don't think what Mark and Jeff did is comparable to what Trevor did. Mark and Jeff staying out cost Carl a point. Trevor dumping Jeff after agreeing to push him cost Jeff 20 (or more) points. If Trevor would have said no, then Jeff would have found someone else, which is impossible to do once everyone is paired up.

  14. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Wow, somebody will not buy a Ford based on what happened in a race. I usually not buy automobiles based on whether a company took billions in bailout money, but thats just me.

    Its amazing what short memories people that are mad about team orders have. Childress tells his drivers all the time not to draft with Fords. Who can forget Hendrick putting extra cars in the last race of seasons where his drivers are leading the points, just to fall out to help secure the championship.

    For the Gordon fans, don't get too worked up about him getting screwed. He screwed Ford 20 years ago after Ford spent a fortune developing him.

    As for the Roush haters, though much of what you say has merit, those who pull for Hendrick drivers absolutely lose all credibility. A convicted felon who had his pardon bought. I won't even bring up the leukemia thing.

  15. Anonymous4:25 PM

    Dave. I did say its easier said than done. I'm just a truck driver and understand that Wood Brothers have been loyal to Ford for many years. What I'm saying is Dodge has only 2 or 3 cars in cup. This could give them a chance to get RPM back. Or Toyota to build there fleet via Furniture Row. If these team owners don't want somebody else running there teams they might listen a little closer to other manufacturers.

    Kelly in Manitoba

  16. That works great, except for the fact that Dodge doesn't WANT to get RPM back. They dropped them intentionally in an effort to downsize their program. Toyota is also not looking to add any more teams. RPM and Furniture Row are with Ford and Roush because that is their best (and ONLY) viable option.

  17. Anonymous5:53 PM

    Gordon wasnt under contract with ford because they hadnt found a sponsor ....the rest is bad martin stuck with ford for so long he might have a championship....

  18. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Yay @badream

  19. Jeff From Arizona6:38 PM

    Think Furniture Row is with Chevy.

  20. for you hendrick haters, the difference between him and rousch....hendricks would have allready spoken up and put trevor in a better place....clearly what childress and menard did to gordon was far worse and ruins racing...and wile im at it that 48 bunch has screwed him many times, only problem i have with hendricks is that he even allowed anyone to think they could come in and take his frickin crew...good luck with that bunch jr they arent lookin out for you

  21. Anonymous7:52 PM

    great article Moody, as always !!

    Lori (colorado)

  22. Anonymous9:04 PM

    Team orders have been around for a while in various guises. Has everybody forgotten Menard's spin at Richmond? The Harvick - Hornaday finish in the trucks? All the phantom lead changes for points that happen EVERY race?
    This the natural result of multicar teams and the decline in real owners.
    In short, its how the sport has evolved.

  23. Anonymous10:58 PM

    Furniture Row is a Chevy team. They get ECR engines and they get their pit crew from Stewart-Haas.

  24. Anonymous11:15 PM

    This is a very sad day in NASCAR, when the manafactures can dictate who does what it's becoming F1. I have been a NASCAR Fan since 1970 and I have seen things that are underhanded but I truly feel the manafactures have crossed the line this time. NASCAR needs to step up to the plate and fix this issue, If Jack don't like let him go elsewhare, we all know he's not going anyplace. It is a very low day for NASCAR.

  25. I meant Front Row, not Furniture Row.

  26. Anonymous6:15 PM

    Ok.. For one, NASCAR is not the only sport who has team mates competing against one another. NHRA has it happen week in and week out. As was seen a couple years back when John Force tossed a race against his team mate to get the team mate in the countdown, NHRA will suspend the win if a driver is proven to throw a race against a team mate. I think team orders are not good, and that sponsors are not stupid when they see those things happening. NHRA has no guaranteed qualifying or lucky dogs. So there is a lot more on the line for those guys. Lets just let the guys race and what happens happens.

  27. Anonymous9:52 AM

    'Gordon carried out his own version of “team orders” at Talladega, repeatedly remaining on track under caution in an attempt to prevent point leader (and Roush Fenway Ford driver) Carl Edwards from leading a lap. Fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin did the same.'
    What is this...a soap opera? Could it not be that Jeff and Mark stayed on the track to lead a lap and come into a less crowded pit road?????????? Come on. Quit grasping a roush coloured straws....sounds llike an old boys club talk to me.

  28. Overblown. Team orders ultimately becomes self-defeating in this kind of racing. Bowyer showed that at the end.

  29. Hi,
    Team orders ultimately becomes self-defeating in this kind of racing...